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Written in the stars

Open this marvellous diary of a single year at any page, and you will be struck by some startling moment of import in a life of genius or an epoch-making event.

You will also be struck by the inevitable comparison with our own times. January 2012, Katie Price opens a supermarket, perhaps? June, and it's another reality TV star ending another fake relationship.

Popular culture doesn't figure large in Kevin Jackson's account of high art in 1922, even though it was prevalent enough for modernists like James Joyce and TS Eliot to make good use of it in their respective works, Ulysses and The Wasteland, both published in this year. We do have Life magazine depicting the "flapper" on its cover, when youth and femininity combined to create a cultural icon, and we see a "plump young English virgin", Alfred Hitchcock, directing his first film, Number Thirteen.

Popular film stars Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino also make an appearance in tribute to a new art form, as do jazz musicians and the forming of the BBC, but this year belongs to the likes of Einstein, giving his first lecture on relativity at the College de France; to Hemingway's evolution of his infamous pared-back prose style; to the famous "modernist dinner" at the Majestic, where Proust and Joyce met, along with Picasso and Stravinsky.

Proust himself would die later this year, as would Alexander Graham Bell and Lenin. It was the year that the USSR was created, as well as the Irish Free State; it was the year Mussolini's fascists took control of Rome and Hitler's Storm Troopers appeared for the first time as a paramilitary organisation. With such events taking place, perhaps it was inevitable that the two works that dominate this year are comments on the modern world – readers would have picked up immediately on Eliot's reference in The Wasteland to the atrocities that took place in Smyrna towards the end of the Greco-Turkish war in which 100,000 were killed.

There is little sign that Joyce and Eliot were to become long-lasting colossi of literature, highly admired though their works were. But there were plenty of warning signs about future catastrophic events, had the world paid enough attention to them.

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